Consider the sounds of the Caribbean, the beat, the patter, the rhythm of a tropical life, where the heat and humidity drive social events into the cooler hours of the late evening, outside and open. For so many, although of course not all, these were the sounds and scenes swapped for an altogether quieter existence, one more closed and contained – despite the grandeur promises of progress and opportunity for the Windrush generation.
This short film Paved with Gold is Shereen Jasmin Phillips’ accurate depiction of the vital role that music played in creating a ‘home away from home’ for people from the Caribbean within Black British community. It is narrated through two strong female voices and reflects on the way sound, and specifically the sound of socialising, helped to provide fleeting relief from homesickness and feelings of otherness. Through music, labels were lifted – and even if only briefly: Black, British, Christian, were all alleviated by this great leveller, giving way to simply ‘young people, dancing’.
But the brutal and unrelenting racism from White British communities made these sacred moments of peace even more scarce. Segregation was commonplace and when it wasn’t imposed by landlords and club owners, a “No colour bar dance” like the one held in Lambeth town hall in 1955, was just as forced. Local white dancers were encouraged to try out dances such as the mambo, while their Black neighbours experimented with the foxtrot. And so, despite the coming together of communities, the set up still actively promoted segregation, a policy of difference. This forced the music and dancing to retreat indoors, into homes, stereos flooded warmth under the flood boards of adjoining terrace houses, creating an invisible thread of belonging and culture, even if it so sadly only existed behind closed doors. Ushered away in a country that offered an open invite.
It’s in the split narrative though, that the film illuminates a divide in how far music can go in quelling these pangs of pain, a divide between innocence and experience. For a younger generation, perhaps it was possible to be pacified through music, drown their longing and sadness out with volume, a soundtrack that helped create a sense of fitting in. But for those of experience, those whose adult minds couldn’t so easily tune into a stereo and switch off to stereotypes, it was an altogether more difficult story.
The metrical force and disciplinarian in many families, a Mother. The reprimands and chastising of the fictionalised parent in Paved with Gold aims to be a representational picture of cultural attitudes set out for children, inspired by Caribbean and West Indian diaspora in Britain. The clout of this female authority is born out of maternal instinct, and pain too, at the disparity between expectation and reality. In the characterisation, the short film shows the frustration, the disappointment and the hurt of arriving in a country that doesn’t respect, a people that don’t emphasise and a culture that doesn’t receive newcomers. And in amongst all the above, there is the pressure to uphold values, to teach wrong from right, to demonstrate a proper-ness of manners and decorum even in the face of barbarism.
Mothers who ferried themselves and then their children across the Atlantic did so for the sake of better; better jobs, better opportunities, better life. So imagine the guilt, when the Motherland rejected her Commonwealth children. Yet these emotions were buried deeper, and what surfaced was the pressure of protecting, proper parenting. Tirelessly rising above discrimination to set an example to children, not to retaliate, not to frolic at dances, but to work double as hard to prove your worth. Balancing fierce bravery inside the home, with the compliable passivity outside of it. Always treading that fine line between respecting yourself, and being forced to respect the unfair and undeniable position afforded to you by society because of the colour of your skin. That balancing act, that is the remarkable achievement of the Mothers who arrived in Britain on passenger ships from halfway across the world.
The female position is a hard one already, but in the context of the Windrush generation, it’s altogether near impossible, navigating the map of Motherhood and creating a home with rules order, in an environment of the unruly and the unjust. So you can hear it, why Mothers warned against the dances, pulled children closer and they pulled away, entranced by the sounds that made them feel like any other young reveller. In itself being a Mother is a dance, a different sort of courtship, a flux of forces.
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About the Filmmaker
Black Apron Entertainment is a London-based film and theatre production company, co-founded by Lynette Linton, Daniel M. Bailey & Gino Ricardo Green. Back in 2014, the trio decided to combine and pursue their creative endeavours under one collective brand.
While continuing their own individual development, the trio has produced a collection of short films, theatre productions, music videos and other creative pieces. Passages: A Windrush Celebrations showcase curated by Lynette Linton and produced by Black Apron Entertainment in association with The Royal Court Theatre and Christopher Haydon.
Seven short films written, directed and performed by industry professionals of Caribbean and West Indian heritage. The films were inspired by the Windrush scandal, and the impact and influence of Caribbean and West Indian settlers in Britain.